From Kieran Healy:
Here is an older post about how the U.S. incarceration rate compares to other countries. Here is Becky Pettit & Bruce Western’s (2004) ASR paper, with its frankly astonishing result that in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).Here is Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, a superb analysis of how the prison system is now a key instrument not just of social control, but also social stratification, in America.
I don't exactly blame businesses for not wanting to hire ex-convicts--but that makes it very, very hard to stop being a criminal. i.e. to stop being poor, because the hourly wage for street crime is considerably below that on offer for popping chicken tenders into the deep-fry down at Burger King. This is a personal tragedy for the convicts, and a huge social cost for the rest of us, either in crime or additional prison terms. It's particularly sickening considering how many of those convicts are non-violent drug offenders:
Simple drug possession convictions make up about 5% of the federal prison population and about 27% of the state prison population, according to the federal government's own figures. Other nonviolent drug offenders were charged with nothing more than "sale or intent to sell" illegal intoxicants to willing buyers.
Update Greg Mankiw points to this talk from Jeffrey Miron on the drug war